Launching a Successful Outdoor Training Program

Tracy earned her bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Springfield College. She has been working in the fitness industry for 15 years as a personal trainer, group exercise instructor and educator. Tracy owns her own personal training studio, the Fitness Factor in Quincy, MA, and is a Nautilus master trainer, faculty instructor for TSI, and has worked closely with Wayne Westcott assisting in research at the South Shore YMCA. Tracy is an avid runner and triathlete; she has completed four marathons and enjoys outdoor sports.

Experiencing the outdoors will change the way your clients/members feel about a cardiovascular workout. An outdoor workout gives a sense of accomplishment and exposes them to a local place they may not have known about. Not only will they feel like an athlete becoming one with nature, but they will also discover the beauty of their surroundings whether they’re exercising in a park, mountains or the ocean, or having fun “playing” in the snow once again.

Gym goers who use cardiovascular equipment often distract themselves with TVs and/or iPods from boredom, the uncomfortable feeling associated with exercise or because they are simply going through the motions of their fitness routine. When you take these members outside the walls of your health club, they may find that exercising is a much more peaceful experience.

Developing an outdoor fitness program starts with a fitness professional who is interested in exercising outside. The leader needs to organize the outdoor training event in advance so members can plan ahead. Let’s use hiking as an example. The leader will need to plan the day, time and location of the hike, and e-mail the participants or give them an informational handout on what they should expect, what to bring and what to wear. Remember that a club that starts an outdoor program will attract beginners or individuals who work out indoors and may not have the necessary gear for the outdoors (water bottles, newer sneakers/hiking shoes, hiking sticks if needed). The hike should be designed to suit all fitness levels.

A leader should develop a schedule of recreational outdoor activities such as a group destination walk at a local park or beach area, or a group hike at a local reservation area or hiking area that will apply to all fitness levels. Have a schedule of different outdoor activities for each season. This will help prevent members from losing interest. Keep them looking forward to the next outdoor event by offering indoor training sessions at your club. For example, in the winter months, plan cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In the spring, organize destination walks and hikes and encourage your members to run road races together. In the summer, a fitness professional can take its members kayaking or rock climbing. In the fall, a club can offer special hikes with yoga, full moon walks and road races. If you network in your community, you will be surprised how many outdoor activities are available to you.

Once the schedule is developed, you can then encourage members to do an activity that they may be interested in. If you encourage members to bring a friend or family member along, they will be more likely to commit. As an outdoor leader, the most challenging part of planning may be encouraging members to sign up for an activity. It will take the leader’s passion for the outdoors to motivate others. Once you have a few individuals interested, be sure to take them somewhere that they will all feel a sense of accomplishment. If a member has been walking on the treadmill as a regular workout and you take this member on a hike, tell them how an indoor workout on a stair climber can help prepare him or her for a more challenging hike the next time around. Once a member has committed, you can help him or her to train specifically for the event. It provides an opportunity to give some personal attention, encouragement and new motivation. Most individuals want to try something new, but they don’t know how to get started and are waiting for someone to ask them to go on an adventure. Outdoor training will surely be a success as long as it is fun, does not take up too much time (within the same time frame as a class) and the leader keeps it varied throughout the year.

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